Published: 2008-11-08

Self-efficacy, or confidence as it is commonly known, is one of the most enabling psychology models to have been adopted into positive psychology. It is the optimistic self-belief in our competence or chances of successfully accomplishing a task and producing a favourable outcome.

Self-efficacy is certainly worth having because as Henry Ford famously put it, whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right. And Gandhi perfectly understood the pivotal role that self-belief plays in our lives:

Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.

Self-efficacy plays a major part in determining our chances for success; in fact some psychologists rate self-efficacy above talent in the recipe for success. We need to pay special attention to self-efficacy when setting goals to make sure that our efficacy beliefs are in line with our aims and not working against them.

So where does self-efficacy come from and how can you get more of it? The originator of the theory, Albert Bandura names four sources of efficacy beliefs.

1. Mastery Experiences

The first and foremost source of self-efficacy is through mastery experiences. However nothing is more powerful than having a direct experience of mastery to increase self-efficacy. Having a success, for example in mastering a task or controlling an environment, will build self- belief in that area whereas a failure will undermine that efficacy belief. To have a resilient sense of self-efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles through effort and perseverance.

2. Vicarious Experiences

The second source of self-efficacy comes from our observation of people around us, especially people we consider as role models. Seeing people similar to ourselves succeed by their sustained effort raises our beliefs that we too possess the capabilities to master the activities needed for success in that area.

3. Verbal Persuasion

Influential people in our lives such as parents, teachers, managers or coaches can strengthen our beliefs that we have what it takes to succeed. Being persuaded that we possess the capabilities to master certain activities means that we are more likely to put in the effort and sustain it when problems arise.

4. Emotional & Physiological States

The state you’re in will influence how you judge your self-efficacy. Depression, for example, can dampen confidence in our capabilities. Stress reactions or tension are interpreted as signs of vulnerability to poor performance whereas positive emotions can boost our confidence in our skills.

5. Imaginal Experiences

Psychologist James Maddux has suggested a fifth route to self-efficacy through “imaginal experiences”, the art of visualising yourself behaving effectively or successfully in a given situation.

Further Reading
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy. The exercise of control. New York:
W.H.Freeman and Company.Emory University, Division of Educational Studies, Information on Self-Efficacy: A Community of Scholars., J.E. (2005). Self-efficacy: The power of believing you can. In C.R
Snyder & S.J. Lopez, (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 227-287). New York: Oxford University Press.